Shipping Wine for 27 Years in Napa Valley
With its hundreds of gorgeous vineyards and wineries, Napa Valley is the heart of U.S. wine country. And for wineries whose guests purchase a bottle or six to ship back home, Buffalo's Shipping Post is key to their business. "About 85% of our business is shipping wine,” explains Joan Bredehoft, who co-founded the pack-and-ship business with her husband, Buff, in 1992.
Buffalo’s Shipping Post has another distinction as well. “We’ve been a top FedEx shipper for 12 or 13 years,” Bredehoft says.
Know Your Niche
What lessons can a pack-and-ship learn from this success? For one thing, Buffalo’s Shipping Post has found its area of focus.
The store experiences the usual Christmas rush, but Bredehoft notes that their peak shipping season is actually in November, when the grapes are harvested. “The product [the harvesters] picked will be held for two years and then released. But people like to come and watch the machines,” she says.
While fall may be the busiest time of year, touring vineyards is truly a year-round activity. In fact, according to the official tourism organization for Napa County, 3.85 million visitors came to the wine country last year, and those tourists spent $2.23 billion. By making themselves indispensable to neighboring wineries, Buffalo’s Shipping Post has earned its own slice of that business.
Tips for Shipping Wine
— Joan Bredehoft
Do Your Research
Shipping wine bottles can be a complicated prospect. “There are a lot of ins and outs on it,” Bredehoft says. “And a lot of wineries don’t want to be involved with shipping.” So they enlist Buffalo’s Shipping Post to handle their shipping for them. For a $5 fee, the store does pickups at some of the wineries in the area and brings the bottles to the store for shipping. The bottles are protected by specially shaped foam cushioning and then packaged in cardboard for safe shipping. But the main challenges are regulatory.
To move wine across state lines, a pack-and-ship operation must first have a license specific to the destination state. “Every state has different requirements for getting a license,” Bredehoft says, and some states will give licenses only to manufacturers. She employs someone to check the compliance requirements in each state where the store ships to ensure that its wine shipping licenses are in good order.
Find the Right Extras
Buffalo’s Shipping Post is more than a pack-and-ship store. It also has a gift shop and stocks conveniences such as ointments and bandages. “We have a lot of travelers on the weekends, and a lot of the stores are not open,” she says.
“I also own a resale license for alcohol,” Bredehoft says, referring to the section of the store that displays wine selections for purchase. “And you’re paying what you’d pay at the winery. It helps the smaller wineries have an outlet, since they don’t have [wine] tastings all year.”
“Each person that brings something into our business to send, that package is the most important thing in their lives. We treat them all accordingly.”
— Joan Bredehoft
Owner, Buffalo’s Shipping Post
Select the Best Service
Bredehoft says she uses only FedEx® services to ship wine and stopped working with the other main carrier in the area out of frustration.
“FedEx has us spoiled,” Bredehoft says. “Our rep, Ron Phillips, is outstanding. If we have a problem, we call him and he’s on it. He helps us work through any problems we have. He’s very knowledgeable. If he can't straighten it out, he knows who to contact who can get it straightened out. And that’s very, very wonderful."
Most of the store’s customers ship with FedEx Ground for the great pricing and fast delivery within 1–5 business days within the contiguous U.S. (3–7 business days to and from Alaska and Hawaii). Because of wine’s temperature sensitivity, the store’s team members recommend FedEx 2Day®, FedEx Express Saver® for 3-day delivery, and FedEx overnight services for shipments going across the country or internationally.
Do Unto Others
Beyond their expertise and accommodating wine shipping services, Bredehoft attributes the store’s success to the golden rule: treat customers the way you’d want to be treated. “Each person that brings something into our business to send, that package is the most important thing in their lives. We treat them all accordingly,” she says.
Buff Bredehoft passed away from cancer in 2014, but Joan keeps the store open because of the relationships she’s forged along the way. “I've been keeping it going for the employees and the customers. They’re like a second family to me,” she says.